Sunday, October 30, 2011

Girl Scouts Reject Boy Who Likes Girl Things

This CNN story is mostly about a boy who wants to join the Girl Scouts. But it is much more than that. Bobby Montoya's situation opens the door to an entire discussion about gender identity and how to manage it, both your own and other people's.

The story is easily summarized. Bobby is a seven-year-old who has a boy's body but thinks of himself as a girl. He likes girl things, likes his hair long, likes to dress like a girl and be treated as one. And he wanted to go to Girl Scouts but they wouldn't let him join.
A leader said he could not join because of his "boy parts," [ Bobby's mother, Felisha ] Archuleta told CNN affiliate 9News.

The Girl Scouts of Colorado has since said it was an "inclusive" organization and "if a child lives life as a girl" he or she is welcome to join. "When a family requests membership for their daughter, we do not require proof of gender, we respect the decisions of families."

Archuleta doesn't label her son, who has been bullied and taunted. "I consider Bobby to be born in the wrong body."
The Colorado case has brought to light questions about labels and the rapidly evolving discussion about gender non-conforming children. Parents urged to support, safeguard children as they explore gender

I think that's an unfortunate title. This kid is not "exploring gender," he just wants to do what the other girls do. And you see our language is not accepting the situation well either, I am using masculine pronouns because the English language makes you choose and Bobby is presented in this story as a boy. It is not a story of exploration, it does not appear that Bobby is exploring anything, he knows what he is and that's that.

It seems very likely that at some point Bobby will change his name and formally transition his identity, so that rather than being "a boy who thinks he's a girl" he can be, simply, "a girl." That has apparently not happened yet.

This is an odd piece of reporting that starts with this human interest feature and quickly shoots off on important tangents. They even quote Regina Griggs from PFOX.

The question here is gender nonconformity. Most people cluster around the ends of the gender dichotomy, their self-presentation and their physical characteristics are in agreement, yet at the same time almost everyone deviates in some way. You remember the football player who enjoyed knitting, the jazz musician who followed the soap operas, very few of us conform a hundred percent to the stereotypes of male and female gender. Some small proportion of people identify themselves as the gender opposite their physical characteristics, and let's not forget that there are very many kinds of intersex conditions where physical characteristics are not entirely unambiguous.
The terms sex and gender are often used interchangeably, particularly on official forms, but sociologists say they are not the same thing.

Sex refers to biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender refers to socially constructed roles and behaviors society considers appropriate for men and women.

Gender identity and sexual orientation also are different. Sexual orientation refers to an individual's enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person, whereas gender identity refers to one's internal sense of being male, female, or something else, according to the American Psychological Association.

Transgender children and adults are "people who are being assigned one gender but affirm that they are the other," said Diane Ehrensaft, a San Francisco Bay Area developmental and clinical psychologist and author of "Gender Born, Gender Made."

In the case of a kid like Bobby, it is important to point out that if there is a problem it is a problem with other people. Bobby seems comfortable being a girl, but the kids at school are apparently not cool with it, and I am sure some readers will object that his parents should force him in a more masculine direction. Gender roles may be socially defined but an individual's sense of their own gender is innate, and problems arise in a social context, when a person presents themselves as they are and violates others' expectations of what they should be.

The discussion comes down to one thing. We have a choice to make regarding the people around us. We can accept them as they are, or we can try to change them so they meet our expectations. The issue is not whether Bobby "should" be a boy or a girl, he already knows what he is, the problem is going to be seen in how other people deal with him.
Felisha Archuleta, who has two older children, said Bobby is still interested in joining the Girl Scouts, but not the same unit he first came in contact with.

The Girl Scouts of Colorado is taking such situations "on a case by case basis," said spokesperson Rachelle Trujillo. "This is a pretty new thing for us."

"I have absolutely heard of many situations of transgender kids who are absolutely living as a girl. Girl Scouts shouldn't be any different for them," she said.

Archuleta said her son doesn't need counseling and does not the dress the way he does because of his environment.

"I know it's going to be a really hard road for Bobby," Archuleta said. "I feel if we are there for him, we will get through it together."

There is a concise video at this link and a long story. The Girl Scout official they interview seems to have insight and empathy for Bobby's situation, and I have the feeling they will end up evolving a policy that is inclusive and kind. Gender identity is not a topic that most of us have ever given much thought to, we are what we are and society has fairly clear ways of treating male and female individuals. Everyone has a gender identity, it is not well understood but it is not hard to respect those who feel themselves to be different from the stereotype.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

CNN States the Obvious

Enjoy this video.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Debate on Maryland Marriage in The Gazette

A couple of weeks ago, MoCo heavy-hitter Blair Lee made political predictions for Maryland in 2012 in The Gazette. One of the main considerations behind his predictions was the size of the black population in Montgomery County, and certain assumptions about how that population will vote. He talked about the Dream Act and then turned his sights on the marriage equality bill that will be introduced this upcoming year in the state legislature (he's against it). If it passes in the legislature and is signed by the governor, both of which are likely, there will almost certainly be a movement to put it on the ballot next November, to let the people vote on whether their neighbors should be allowed to marry.

He notes that the "gay lobby" is confident that the bill will pass.
But The Gonzales poll casts doubt on the effort’s wisdom. According to Gonzales, Maryland voters are evenly split on gay marriage, 48 percent for, 49 percent against. A closer look at the cross-tabs spells trouble for the bill.

Democrats support same-sex marriage 64 percent to 32 percent, but this support is largely limited to white Democrats (82 percent in favor). Among black Democrats, same-sex marriage is opposed 60 percent to 40 percent.

In other words, when it comes to gay marriage, black Democrats are more aligned with Republicans (79 percent opposed) than with their own party.

This drives white liberals crazy. “How could blacks be so ungrateful after all we’ve done for them — food stamps, busing, affirmative action, Obama?” The answer, of course, is that unlike secular white liberals, blacks haven’t abandoned their religious teachings and their churches. Dating back to antebellum days, churches are the backbone of the black family and social and political life. And most black churches are fundamentally opposed to homosexual marriage as a matter of morality. Secular white liberals consider religion a quaint curiosity; blacks still take it seriously. Hence, the intraparty split.

So, the strategic problem facing the gay lobby is whether to expose the gay-marriage bill to public referendum on the same ballot and at the same time as Barack Obama is running for re-election. Blair Lee: 2012 tea leaves

I admit it nauseates me to hear conservatives characterize liberals in this way, which stops any dialog before it can start by making a cartoon out of the other. No one has suggested that blacks should be grateful "after all we've done for them." There is no evidence that liberals have "abandoned their religious teachings and their churches," or that white liberals consider religion "a quaint curiosity." All of this is simple baiting, just a notch or two milder than the stuff Ann Coulter says, with no basis in reality and hardly any pretense of it. He wants to stir up anger by invoking a simplistic stereotype, there is no other point to it.

There are a couple of kernels of truth in his analysis, though. One is that the black churches, which are very influential, tend to oppose same-sex marriage. They are a powerful force in our state, they have been and will be a factor in the marriage debate. They were the dealbreaker last time and will need to be taken seriously next year.

The second kernel of truth is somewhat more subtle. Obama is extremely popular among Maryland's black population, with 85% approval, according to this article. At the same time, his favorability among white Democrats is fading somewhat, in terms of both ratings and intensity. The 2012 election could bring out the most energetic Obama supporters while the more tepid Democrats stay home, with the effect of swelling the relative numbers of black voters and the secondary effect of chipping away at support for marriage equality. Lee goes through the numbers in a credible way, I am not double-checking him. It sounds possible to me.

He asks:
It could be a perfect storm dooming gay marriage simply due to unusual voter turnout levels on two unrelated ballot items: Obama and the Dream Act.

Given the political realities, gay marriage will probably get only one opportunity to win referendum approval. If it loses next year, there won’t be a second chance. So why is the gay lobby picking the worst possible election to put gay marriage on the ballot?

Not that he minds it failing. He is of course trying to discourage those who support marriage opportunity for all couples, but if you ignore his motives it is worthwhile to pay attention to the argument.

Progressive African-American leader Elbridge James responded to Lee in Friday's Gazette. He comes out strong:
As a straight African-American, I strongly support marriage equality because gay and lesbian couples want to marry for the same reasons that my wife and I did: They love each other, they’re committed to each other and they've built a family together. Gay couples share the same hopes and dreams and also share the same worries, like making ends meet or losing their job or their health insurance — realities many here in Maryland face.

Because I travel the state regularly speaking to black voters of all ages and experiences on a variety of issues facing African-Americans, I consider myself pretty plugged into the "black community" in Maryland. Does everyone I talk to support marriage equality? No. But many do.

A Washington Post poll last year shows a huge increase in black support for civil marriage equality. And a Gonzales Research survey earlier this year actually had more African Americans in favor than opposed. Elbridge James: Conventional wisdom wrong on gay marriage

That first paragraph says it all, really. James' argument is based on the view that people who love one another should be allowed to marry and start a family. There's no need here to talk about "the homosexual lobby" or other emotional triggers that Blair Lee threw in. This straight black man supports the right of lovers to marry.

All of this discussion assumes that the bill can get passed in the legislature and that it will be put on the ballot in 2012. The same arguments apply, by the way, to the gender rights bill that will certainly be proposed in this session, but with less fanfare and less popular support (and less impact if it becomes law). Both bills have significant support in the legislature and will face referendum opposition by conservatives if they pass, and these same demographic phenomena will affect both issues.

I only quoted a small part of Blair Lee's opinion piece. James sums it up well here:
Blair Lee penned an unbelievably offensive and inaccurate column on race and poverty (“Tea leaves for 2012,” Oct. 7) that touched on the marriage question. He does not understand that, for all couples who are dedicated and committed to each other, marriage is important. It’s those quick and cheap shots that drive wedges between communities.

Lee's piece had a political motive, it was intended to discourage proponents of marriage and to use stereotypes about both liberals and African-Americans to stimulate those who are undecided in the direction of rejection of marriage. His appeal is emotional, he offers no reason why people should not be allowed to marry, only trivializes the views of "white secular liberals" in a way that makes it easy to stand mindlessly against them. I also found his piece offensive.
Fair-minded Marylanders support gay and lesbian couples going to the courthouse to get a marriage license. A majority of Maryland Catholics, whom many would assume would be opposed, are in fact solidly in favor. (A majority of Catholics nationally also support same-sex marriage.) The values of commitment and family aren’t confined to a person’s religion or race.

As a black person who has made that lifetime commitment, I’ll continue to stand strong with committed, loving gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry.

I’m proud to have the support of many African-Americans, religious leaders and state leaders like Governor O’Malley. Continue to count me when looking at African-American support.

The interesting thing about this exchange is the way the two men are talking past one another. James' discussion is not founded on some fluid political reality based on shifting public opinion, it is a matter of principle, he is talking about what marriage is and why it should be encouraged. Blair Lee's argument assumes that black people will behave as a herd, that the "black churches" will act as one and the African-American population will follow without thinking for themselves. It's an argument based on assumptions about human behavior, predicting how the crowd will behave on election day as a function of how they perceive their social group's norms. There is no principle involved, no belief is stated one way or the other about any possible consequences of marriage equality.

There is supposedly a principle opposed to marriage, some reasons that could be given for prohibiting gay and lesbian marriages, but if there is one it is not important enough to mention. One side believes that people who love one another should be able to marry, to have a home and a family regardless of whether they are the same or different sex, that these things make for happy people and a strong society. At least in this debate, the other side believes that … a majority of people will be against it.

Lee follows the crowd here. He is predicting what voters will prefer, based on their current beliefs, an educated guess about how certain powerful opinion leaders will influence them, and an observation about how the 2012 election climate may bias the kinds of voters who turn out.

BTW, note that one thing could overturn his prediction entirely; if Obama came out and said he favored marriage rights for all, gay as well as straight, the biased voter turnout could tip the referendum the other way.

James's approach is to lead while Lee's is to follow the crowd. Leaders like James look at the principles involved, evaluate them and attach themselves to the viewpoint that they believe is best, then lead people through persuasion and example to share their belief. Lee -- who has power in this county, his family founded Silver Spring and still owns major chunks of it -- passively identifies the forces that he expects will carry drifting, amoral, unthinking voters in the direction of least resistance, assuming they will obey their authorities rather than engaging in effortful introspection. I am as cynical as anybody here, I understand the disappointment that follows the expectation that people will use their brains and hearts, but if a few state leaders would fix their vision on the principle of marriage and lead the discussion rather than predicting it, Maryland could move an important big step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Update: MCPS Supt Does Not Endorse or Agree with PFOX

PFOX posted a letter on their web site from MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr, praising anti-gay spokesperson Peter Sprigg for his service on the district's citizens advisory committee. They had this to say:
Montgomery County, MD – Peter Sprigg, a director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX), has been recognized by the Superintendent of Schools of Montgomery County, Maryland, for his years of service to the local public school system. Public Schools Thank Director of Ex-Gay Organization for Local Service

Sprigg wasn't singled out for this, it turns out, this was the generic thank-you letter that everybody on the committee got. In response to my emailed query, Superintendent Starr said, "In no way shape or form do I condone how it's being used, nor do I agree with his stance or that of his group. In fact, I am on the opposite side of the spectrum."

The letter that Sprigg received was a version of the same one that all citizens advisory committee members got. PFOX posted this on their blog as if there was something special, but it was just boilerplate. The guy showed up for six years of meetings, it is all right to thank him for that, but that's all it was.

MCPS Chief of Staff Brian Edwards has sent this letter to Regina Griggs, President of PFOX:
Dear Ms. Griggs:

We have received a number of emails from people who are concerned about information you posted on your blog regarding the standard letter that Dr. Starr sent to Mr. Peter Sprigg thanking him for his service on the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. Some are concerned that Dr. Starr’s letter is singling out Mr. Sprigg for praise and is being misinterpreted as an endorsement of PFOX and its beliefs and issues.

Let me be clear, Mr. Sprigg received the same thank you that Dr. Starr sent to all members of the committee who completed their service this spring. Dr. Starr was in no way singling out Mr. Sprigg for special recognition. Any effort on your part to portray this simple thank you as an endorsement of PFOX or its perspective is misguided and should cease.

Dr. Starr does not endorse nor agree with the views represented by PFOX.

Thank you,

Brian Edwards

Once again, PFOX is blowing something out of proportion. Their guy was thanked like all other committee members, and they tried to make it look like an endorsement. It wasn't.

MCPS Superintendent Thanks Hate Group Leader for "Thoughtful Participation"

This is unbelievable. The Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, Joshua Starr, has sent an official letter to Peter Sprigg, thanking him for "your willingness to engage in the sometimes difficult work of ensuring that Montgomery County Public Schools' students have access to the strongest possible curriculum."

Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, which has been designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was a member of the MCPS Citizens Advisory Committee for Family Life and Human Development. Sprigg was appointed to the committee to represent Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, or PFOX, a sadly homophobic group that promotes the idea that gay people should become straight.

Starr gushes on, "Your thoughtful participation in the committee's work helped create a collaborative environment."

The letter is dated August 4, 2011, but PFOX only publicized the document this week on their blog HERE. There is a link to the letter itself on their site: HERE (pdf).

Here's how RightWing Watch summarizes Peter Sprigg's career. He:

Over the period that the citizens advisory committee worked on the sex-education curriculum, it cannot be said that Peter Sprigg did anything at all to make the curriculum better.

Since I first witnessed his speech at the CRC's Hate-Fest in April, 2005, I have considered Peter Sprigg to be one of the more dangerous extremists. Here's what I said at that time:
Now, I'll give Peter Sprigg this: he speaks in complete, well-formed, and even complex sentences. He sounds like a real smart guy, lots of vocabulary, references to scientific journals, and so on.

But listen to what he's saying! With nearly every "myth," he points out the form of discrimination that is involved, and then explains why the myth is inaccurate. The point is clear -- he's not even trying to hide it -- that he and his audience believe that it is right and proper to discriminate against gay people, to penalize them, to keep them out of certain jobs. He makes no bones about it -- he's here to justify discrimination against homosexuals. He doesn't think they should be included in our society, and here are his intelligent-sounding reasons why. Tune Up Your Hate-dar

Peter Sprigg is polite, cheerful, articulate. He violates your expectation about what hate should look like. He is not angry, shouting, rolling his eyes, he seems very civilized. You want to agree with him, he seems like a nice guy.

You have to look at what he's saying it and why he's saying it. The "research" he cites is bogus, the conclusions he draws are consistently discriminatory. The fact that his demeanor is pleasant is not relevant when you are determining important policies.

It is just weird that the county's Superintendent of Schools would choose to send a congratulatory letter to someone who has done so much damage in the world, embarrassed our county, and worked to undermine the county's public schools. Sprigg was added to the committee as part of a legal settlement, attorneys agreed that CRC and PFOX would each have a representative on the group. The district may have left him on the committee as a concession to conservatives, that's fine, I don't mind if multiple perspectives are represented. But to single him out for praise, that's too much.

Here is the full text of the letter:

[On Montgomery County Public Schools letterhead ]

August 4, 2011

Mr. Peter Sprigg

Dear Mr. Sprigg:

Thank you for your six years of service to the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. This important effort requires committed citizens willing to give their time and energy to support meaningful educational opportunities for all students. I want to personally thank you for your willingness to engage in the sometimes difficult work of ensuring that Montgomery County Public Schools' students have access to the strongest possible curriculum. The committee often deals with issues that evoke strong emotions and your thoughtful participation in the committee's work helped create a collaborative environment. Your commitment to the work of the committee is appreciated.


Joshua P. Starr, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Copy to:
Mr. Barclay
Dr. Lacey
Mr. Edwards
Mr. Lang
Ms. Brown
Ms. Webb
Mr. Ikheloa
Dr. Plotsky

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Photos of the Ninety Nine Percent

People are decent. People care about one another. People want to be happy and enjoy the vibrancy of life. People are willing to work hard for fair wages. People will put up with a certain amount of inconsistency and untruth from their leaders. But there comes a point where you look around and realize that certain greedy elements are taking advantage of your goodness. And it appears that people are fed up with it.

I would not have imagined that the Occupy movement against economic injustice would ever take off. I followed the Anonymous tweets before September 17th skeptically, even cynically. I never thought Americans would rebel, we are a nation of sheep, just comfortable enough to stay home and look the other way even when atrocities are committed in our name. But this movement is big, and it is getting bigger all the time. Even if you don't literally take to the streets, the polls are finding that a gigantic proportion of Americans support the Occupy movement.

The Boston Globe has a really good gallery of photographs of Occupy protests around the world HERE.

Oxnard, California

Times Square, New York


People from Korea to Greece to Little Rock are waking up to the realization that democracy as it is practiced in the contemporary world has become a scheme to allow the rich to become even richer and more powerful, that selfish corporations have taken over governments through a process of legalized bribery and are destroying the economies and environments of the entire planet. The media are complicit in the scheme but are slowly beginning to cover the movement, which is swelling larger every day. This is going to get interesting.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Interesting Map from The Atlantic

It is interesting to note that some of the darkest areas, with the highest concentration of same-sex couples, are regions with large populations of indigenous people. I don't know if that explains it. Link HERE.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SPLC Takes On Conversion Therapy

The Southern Poverty Law Center is taking direct aim at the "ex-gay" rhetoric that has poisoned Montgomery County Public Schools and other places. They have put up a web page discussing the topic of "conversion therapy," whose practitioners claim to make gay people straight. The site has a form for readers to submit their experiences with such therapy.
Conversion therapy – sometimes known as reparative or “sexual reorientation” therapy – is a dangerous practice based on the premise that people can change their sexual orientation, literally “converting” from homosexuality to heterosexuality. Central to conversion therapy is the belief that being gay is a mental disorder – a position rejected by the American Psychiatric Association nearly four decades ago.

People who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicidal ideation. The devastating consequences of conversion therapy are why the Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to ending this practice and defending the rights of individuals harmed by it.

Conversion therapy has been discredited or highly criticized by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. The American Psychological Association declared in 2006: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

The American Medical Association officially “opposes the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.”

Despite these findings, the conversion therapy movement continues to push its message and is increasingly targeting LGBT youth, often recommending that parents commit their children to treatment against the child’s wishes. Conversion Therapy

"Ex-gay" is a clever piece of propaganda, easy to say, easy to remember, benign-sounding but inherently insidious. It presupposes that sexual orientation is a characteristic you can change. Every human being has some orientation, it's one of those things that is so much a part of you that you can't really picture what it would be like to be different. Sexual orientation might seem to change on its own sometimes, a person might be bisexual in a sort of oscillating way, but trying to change your sexual orientation is nothing more than an exercise in futility.

The curriculum was repeatedly criticized by The Nutty Ones for not teaching anything about "ex-gays," which they claimed was a kind of sexual orientation. No, there are three: heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual. If someone has stopped being the third then they are one of the other two, they don't need a special category.

The message that LGBT people can and should change their sexual orientation is echoed throughout the literature promoting conversion therapy:
  • “Anyone who experiences SSA [same-sex attraction] is not ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ or ‘transgender.’ They are all latent heterosexuals!”
  • “Self-deception about gender is at the heart of the homosexual condition. A child who imagines that he or she can be the opposite sex—or be both sexes—is holding on to a fantasy solution to his or her confusion. This is a revolt against reality and a rebellion against the limits built into our created human natures.”

Absurd theories and treatments also are promoted within the conversion therapy movement:
  • “The penis is the essential symbol of masculinity—the unmistakable difference between male and female. This undeniable anatomical difference should be emphasized to the boy in therapy.”
  • “The family model that produces a homosexual son has, in our view, typically failed to validate the boy’s masculine individuation during the formative phase of gender identification.”

There are other concerns about conversion therapy as well. The American Psychological Association expressed concern in 2006 that the positions espoused by some of the leading advocates of conversion therapy, such as the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), “create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

The false claim that gay people can be “cured” of their sexual orientation is often used to rationalize treating LGBT people as second-class citizens and worse—the logic being that if LGBT people can “repair” their sexual orientation, there’s no reason to give the LGBT community equal rights under the law. The damage inflicted by the conversion therapy movement reaches far beyond the individual receiving the “therapy” and into communities across the country.

If you are an ex-gay survivor, you should follow the link and go tell your story. We have talked to people who seriously believed they had changed their sexual orientation until … something happened … and the change proved ephemeral. Result: ex-ex-gays, sometimes known as "dos equis."

As far as I know, PFOX is still sending flyers home with our county's schoolchildren, encouraging them to pretend to be straight even if they are not. It is not a recipe for happiness. It is good to love someone, and it is corrupt and cruel to suggest to someone that their love is not good enough.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

MC Prof Speaks Up About Chaz

Chaz Bono has really done the world a service, appearing on Dancing With the Stars and forcing a kind of conversation about gender that is long overdue (or maybe just making people the realize that there isn't all that much to say on the topic). Chaz puts a face on the word "transgender," it's good to see a regular person having fun after a gender transition. At birth he was given the name Chastity and raised as a girl by parents Sonny and Cher Bono, and last year successfully changed his name and identity to Chaz, having begun the transition in 2008.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote here about a pair of articles online addressing Chaz's appearance on Dancing With the Stars. ABC had an article that basically said that kids won't have as much trouble understanding this as their parents will, and Fox had a bizarre lecture by a psychiatrist telling people they should not let their children watch the show, suggesting that seeing Chaz on TV could cause a child to … want to change their gender. It was creepy and weird.

This week the President of Tufts University released a statement about the Fox psychiatrist, Keith Ablow, making it clear that he is not associated with Tufts in any way. Quoting from it …
LGBT individuals have historically faced oppression and stigmatization within the broader society. While public attitudes and scientific understanding are both evolving, people whose sexuality and gender identity are seen as non-conforming still face very real challenges to full participation in civic life. These challenges are particularly great for transgender individuals. We are committed to an academic, co-curricular, and residential experience that gives trans people the opportunity to thrive at Tufts.

We will not permit discrimination or harassment within the university. This is not just a question of policy, or the law. We are personally and institutionally committed to a diverse and inclusive community. We sponsor a wide array of programs to support the personal growth of our LGBT students in particular, and we are proud that Tufts is regularly recognized as a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT students, faculty, and staff.

Dr. Keith Ablow, whose comments in the media have sparked concern, is not an employee of either Tufts University or Tufts University School of Medicine, nor is he on the staff of Tufts Medical Center. He is one of more than 4,000 individuals who hold voluntary, unpaid appointments at the medical school. Over the years, Dr. Ablow has given occasional lectures in forensic psychiatry to residents, who have already received the M.D. degree, and has helped to organize a memorial forensic psychiatry lecture honoring a deceased resident colleague. He did not discuss gender identity or sexual expression in those lectures and he has not given any lectures for the past five years. He does not teach medical students. Supporting the Transgender Members of the Tufts Community

You get the distinct feeling the Fox shrink will not be invited back to Tufts after this.

There was also a great article this week by a professor at Montgomery College, right here in our little suburban county, in Psychology Today. Azi Aalai, a Psychology professor at MC, wrote:
To the Ablow's out there in the world: gender identity is not so impressionable that one depiction of an unconventional version of it would suddenly disrupt one's own development. Becoming transgendered is no more contagious than is becoming homosexual. Have we really progressed so little as a culture that commentators are condemning a network that is featuring a contestant who just happens to have had gender reassignment surgery as posing a dangerous threat to our innocent kids' fragile sense of respective masculinity or femininity? Doesn't this sound ominously close to outdated notions of isolating same-sex oriented adults from kids, lest they contaminate their sexual identities and (gasp!) turn them gay?

Let's say for the sake of argument, though, that being exposed to an unconventional depiction of gender identity--such as a boy who wears a dress, or the case of Chaz Bono who was born female but has chosen to become male--were enough to alter a child's burgeoning gender identity. My response is: So what?

What makes our traditional notions of masculinity and femininity so sacred that any depiction to the contrary would be a threat that we would not be able to withstand as a culture? Gender is in fact a social construct, not a biological one. One is born male or female, but becomes a man or woman in large part by abiding by the often arbitrary standards of what constitutes masculinity or femininity within his or her respective culture. Why should I be restricted from playing football with the boys just because I am a girl, or in contrast, from wearing the color pink, just because I am a boy? Maybe, in fact, our traditional notions of gender are outdated and even damaging. Indeed, research on gender reveals:

The dominant Western definition of sex delineates two normal categories: male and female. Notions of gender follow suit, typically contrasting masculine and feminine behaviors. Is this dichotomy universal? Anthropologists have uncovered compelling evidence that dichotomous definitions of sex are not universal, arguing instead that many cultures have multiple genders…

Maybe instead of condemning Chaz we should be thanking him. He serves as a great example that gender need not be fixed, that our dualistic thought regarding sex and gender is restrictive and largely illusory. Androgynous individuals, meaning those who do not strongly internalize the confines of their own gender but borrow generously from each, oftentimes exhibit greater social adjustment than those who very narrowly internalize their respective gender identity. For instance, as I researched for my textbook on the psychology of aggression, males who internalize a very narrow construction of masculinity are often more prone to both aggression and violence.

So to Chaz, I say, dance on. And to those threatened by an alternative view of gender identity, make all the noise that you want; but ultimately, a more inclusive notion of gender is emerging in our culture. And I, for one, applaud that. For as one of my students wrote last semester on his essay critiquing traditional notions of gender: Our world would be a much better place if girls could masturbate, and boys could cry. If Johnny Wore Pink

This is great stuff, and I am proud to see faculty from our community college addressing the topic directly. A concept like gender may often have a certain heuristic usefulness, but it is absurd to treat gender stereotypes as a law or rule that must be obeyed. It is obvious to any serious observer that all of us have at least a little bit of male and female in us, some more than others, and sometimes the balance does not tip in the direction that the reproductive organs indicate. And as this professor writes: So what?